Tropical storm leaves more than 115 dead in Central America
May 31, 2010 6:54 PM   Subscribe

Leaves giant sinkhole. At least 115 people have died after a tropical storm battered Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador over the weekend, officials in those countries reported.
posted by pallen123 (82 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
I know it's not, but that picture looks so fake.
posted by crunchland at 6:55 PM on May 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


WTH? That picture made me think I was looking at the Onion.
posted by dobbs at 6:59 PM on May 31, 2010


Residents told CNN that a three-story building and a house fell into the hole.

Good Christ.
posted by the littlest brussels sprout at 7:00 PM on May 31, 2010 [1 favorite]




that sinkhole picture is insane! I have a hard time comprehending...it seems to open into some sort of otherworldly chasm...

that said, my condolences to the people of central america affected by this devastating storm



.
posted by supermedusa at 7:02 PM on May 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


The mole people from the center of the earth have been probing us again. We should fill it with gas and set it afire.
posted by Tashtego at 7:09 PM on May 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


I thought I was looking at a Fark photoshop. It doesn't even look real until you see the side view. Good lord.
posted by davejay at 7:12 PM on May 31, 2010


Holy shit. How deep is that? What's at the bottom?
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:15 PM on May 31, 2010


Wow. That picture is just amazing. I find myself thinking, "It's CNN. It can't be photoshopped. But how can it be real?" It's like a missile silo or journey to the center of the earth or something.
posted by misha at 7:16 PM on May 31, 2010


meanwhile, they have closed their main airport due to volcanic ash/eruptions. WTF? I suppose things will just be getting weirder and weirder from here on out........
posted by tarantula at 7:17 PM on May 31, 2010


Why is it so round? Is that a stupid question? I can't remember any other pictures of sinkholes that were so round.
posted by Mavri at 7:20 PM on May 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


Strange, earlier tonight I was scouring the news sources to figure out just how deep the sinkhole was. You would think they would report on one of the the most obvious questions readers would want to know looking at that thing. Yeah, right. And not just that, most of it was just parroting of other news sources.
posted by crapmatic at 7:21 PM on May 31, 2010


There was a 330 ft. deep sinkhole in Guatemala city in 2007 as well.
posted by signalnine at 7:23 PM on May 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


I looked at that big picture crunchland posted and my guess is it's about 200 ft deep and the blackness at the bottom is water.
posted by crapmatic at 7:26 PM on May 31, 2010


The mole people from the center of the earth have been probing us again. We should fill it with gas and set it afire.

Why that would be a bad idea.
posted by ColdChef at 7:28 PM on May 31, 2010 [20 favorites]


Apparently Guatemala has a history of mind-boggling deep sinkholes. Check this one out from three years ago -- it could fit two Statue of Liberties with room to spare!
posted by bjork24 at 7:28 PM on May 31, 2010


That looks like something straight out of tremors.. Maybe this is a silly question, but where does all the stuff go that was there? Is there a well below there and it all gets washed away? That thing is HUGE. I wonder if it was a flying saucer that burrowed in to the earth? Crazy stuff. Totally looks like a photoshop job.
posted by DiG. at 7:29 PM on May 31, 2010


Signalnine beat me to it. I shouldn't walk away from the computer before leaving a comment.
posted by bjork24 at 7:29 PM on May 31, 2010


It looks like something I drew on the cover of my Trapper Keeper in 3rd grade.
posted by zardoz at 7:31 PM on May 31, 2010


where does all the stuff go that was there
It usually falls into the aquifer.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 7:40 PM on May 31, 2010


Holy crap. I half-expect to see Gerard Butler standing on the side of that hole screaming, "THIS IS SPARTA!" before he kicks some dude into it. Unreal.
posted by Dasein at 7:45 PM on May 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


As I was trying to find out if it could have been a collapsed cave, I found this caver's forum that has a copy of post comparing Guatemala's sinkholes to ones in Naples. Particularly this part might explain the huge size:
The photos from the Guatamala City cave-in are startlingly like those we have taken of similar gigantic cave-in's and sinkholes here in Naples. Like many of you already know, Naples sits above a honeycomb of quarried cavities, ancient aqueducts, passageways and other voids that have been down there for centuries. A conservative estimate is more than 1,000,000 cubic meters of artificial cavities runs beneath the city. These cavities have ceilings of yellow tuff sandstone and the surface level has a varying strata of volcanic pozzolane. Once erosion begins to wash out this material following a sewer or water main rupture the washout doesn't progress much beyond 10 meters or so in ordinary circumstances. However if the ceiling of one of the artificial cavities washed through then we see photos exactly like those in the Guatemala disaster.
Guatemala City isn't as long-existing as Naples, but I wonder if erosion around a water main or other underground structure could explain a huge cavern. Or maybe it could be a natural cave; Google tells me that Guatemala has them, although I don't know about underneath Guatemala City.

And then my dinner finished cooking so I didn't look any further, but if anyone's curious enough to continue looking, I'd be interested!
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:48 PM on May 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


Heh, I have family there (El Salvador) and on top of the bloody never ending rain they have a plague of poisonous cane toads as well.
posted by saucysault at 7:52 PM on May 31, 2010


Remember those underground drill missiles from the first Austin Powers?
posted by WinnipegDragon at 7:53 PM on May 31, 2010


That sinkhole terrifies me. My heart is easily beating 50% faster than normal just looking at the pictures.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 7:58 PM on May 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


The part I find most profoundly disturbing about this image: follow the paths of the three telephone(?) wires that veer down into the hole...and spot the tiny dot that's the top of a pole that fell in and is suspended by the wires. Not seen: the Guatemalan squirrel who was on that pole who has completely shat his pants.
posted by jamaro at 8:11 PM on May 31, 2010 [7 favorites]


Why is it so round? Is that a stupid question? I can't remember any other pictures of sinkholes that were so round.

It looks unnatural. But look again at how it is situated. Assuming the kind of ambient flood water levels implied by the other pix, there are two (or three, whatever) narrow feeders that could shoot water down that hole. The two most prominent are straight shots in, 90 degrees out of phase. That probably set up a vortex, which was radially symmetrical. There was probably a preexisting cavern space below it, and once it broke through, the vortex took its natural form.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:25 PM on May 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Unreal.
posted by amro at 8:26 PM on May 31, 2010


I don't know if Guatemala city sits on limestone or not, but limestone sinkholes like that are caused in a 2-stage process:

First, deep flowing groundwater, usually under some pressure, dissolves out a cavity due to a reaction between the limestone & carbonic acid, which is created in a reaction between topsoils & rain runoff.

Second, as the water table drops over time, the cavity created by solution drains, which removes the buoyancy provided by the water to the roof of the void, & it begins to collapse from the roof of the chamber, one bedding plane at a time, up to the surface.

If there's still flowing water at the bottom of the cavity, the rock that falls from the ceiling will eventually also be dissolved and carried away, making room for more, which is how these things get so deep without seemingly filling up. It can take many thousands of years for the void to eventually reach the surface, but eventually the rocks near the surface will begin to fracture, and water will seep in to these cracks from the surface & enlarge them, destabilizing the roof. A heavy rain event will often push a thin roof past the tipping point very suddenly.

I don't know the geology of Guatemala at all, so it's possible that this could also be from simple piping of alluvial material or perhaps volcanic tuff. I'd like to see a geologist explain these things.

If'n ya wanna get all learny, Here's a book.

All that said, the first thing I thought of when I saw that was Damn, I bet the edge is too unstable to toss a rope down that thing -- I wanna see what's down there.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:29 PM on May 31, 2010 [13 favorites]


I've also heard that some sinkholes happen when an underground salt deposit is dissolved and carried out by water, leaving a void where the earth can collapse inward. Makes for crazy images. Guatemala has been hit with two punches - first the volcano Pacaya erupts and then the first named tropical storm of the season slides straight across them. Hopefully there is help arriving.
posted by msbutah at 8:38 PM on May 31, 2010


Look, I'm usually a pretty grounded and rational person, but holy shit: giant sinkholes, enormous oil spill, Boston being enveloped in a smoky haze because CANADA IS ON FIRE and every other vicious news headline recently makes my head spin. I know it's not the case, but sometimes it's difficult to keep from being infected with the "That's all folks" vibe.

and the other day, there were rivers of golden green pollen flowing into the sewers. Just like the red dust at the end of Night of the Comet.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 8:39 PM on May 31, 2010 [4 favorites]


I've also heard that some sinkholes happen when an underground salt deposit is dissolved and carried out by water

When oil companies pump water into the ground to force oil out, that water can disturb salt deposits pretty suddenly, on a geologic timescale, which I think is the case with some of the sinkholes out in west Texas.

Groundwater pumping can also accelerate the process of collapse, as rocks fall into the void previously filled by the water being pumped up in wells.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:48 PM on May 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


shh. No one tell Cat Pie Hurts about the dogs and cats living together.

It's best not to even mention the twinkie.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:49 PM on May 31, 2010 [6 favorites]


Look, I'm usually a pretty grounded and rational person, but holy shit: giant sinkholes, enormous oil spill, Boston being enveloped in a smoky haze because CANADA IS ON FIRE and every other vicious news headline recently makes my head spin. I know it's not the case, but sometimes it's difficult to keep from being infected with the "That's all folks" vibe.

The other day, I asked my 80 year old grandfather if the world was always this messed up, or does it just seem like it is because I'm an adult now?

His response was more rational than I expected. He said it was because when he was growing up, there was no global news. Not as there is today, anyway. You didn't hear about giant sinkholes in Central America, a town on fire in Canada or earthquakes in Haiti. If it didn't happen near you, it wasn't news, save for wars.

My question is - if you didn't hear about it, how do you know it has happened exactly like this all this time? It wasn't really an answer for me. Just left me with more questions.
posted by Malice at 8:53 PM on May 31, 2010 [27 favorites]


Jesus god.
posted by rtha at 9:11 PM on May 31, 2010


I tried to find out what would create a sinkhole that's almost perfectly circular with almost perfectly vertical walls, but no success. I've seen similar sinkholes in the Yucatan that were revered by the ancient Mayans, so they can form elsewhere and don't require water mains or sewage pipes. But the Intro Geology-type stuff I found showed pictures of sinkholes that looked like normal random holes, with sloping sides and a basically round but sloppy opening.

So what makes such amazingly cylindrical holes? Limestone formations seem to be the common factor, but why do they erode/collapse so precisely?
posted by Quietgal at 9:19 PM on May 31, 2010


So what makes such amazingly cylindrical holes?

I think the largest creatures which emerged from the space/time warp or whatever it was in King's The Mist left footprints like that. Just saying.
posted by maxwelton at 9:55 PM on May 31, 2010


These make amazingly cylindrical holes.
posted by jamaro at 10:05 PM on May 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


DARKSIED IS!
posted by Artw at 10:10 PM on May 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Quietgal: Cenotes?

I wonder if, say, a decennial ground-penetrating-radar survey of city streets would be worthwhile to keep an eye out for developing sinkholes. I suppose they don't really kill very many people and the money would be better spent on something elseā€¦
posted by hattifattener at 10:16 PM on May 31, 2010


Via reddit.

> Any explanation on how this formed?

>> This explanation is pretty boring so I'm going to spice it up with inappropriate swearing.

>> A mother fucking sinkhole like this bitch is formed by the gradual dissolution of punk ass subsurface rock (usually rock such as limestone or mother fucking carbonate rock) by circulating ground water. As the rock dissolves, big ass spaces and slutty caverns develop underground until only a bitch thin layer of support remains on top. At one shit-wank point that fucking layer also collapses revealing the years of titty fucking erosion beneath, and often an underground skank river far below.

>> Here's a mother fucking diagram.

posted by Pranksome Quaine at 10:30 PM on May 31, 2010 [22 favorites]


Damn. Is there even any way to search for those things before they go?
posted by delmoi at 11:20 PM on May 31, 2010


I think the sinkhole is assuming its shape and relatively vertical slope because of the impermeable concrete above. Most of these you don't see in a city.
posted by vapidave at 11:38 PM on May 31, 2010


Sinkhole de Mayo?
posted by i8ny3x at 12:05 AM on June 1, 2010 [8 favorites]


When you drop a rock in, I bet the sound you hear is spe-lunk!

Could this be the entrance to an interesting cave? Or is it (as some news stories indicate) a giant sewer you wouldn't want to go into?
posted by pracowity at 12:47 AM on June 1, 2010


Damn. Is there even any way to search for those things before they go?

Dowsing.
posted by telstar at 2:16 AM on June 1, 2010


I tried to find the right link, but heck. Fuck sparta, this is Sunnydale and we need a slayer. Now.
posted by qinn at 2:27 AM on June 1, 2010 [6 favorites]


Wow. Earth Goatse.
posted by bwg at 3:24 AM on June 1, 2010


So how do you fix that? You can't really fill it in or cover it over, do you just build a fence around it?
posted by octothorpe at 3:53 AM on June 1, 2010


Big sinkhole? That's not so big. This is big.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:10 AM on June 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


So how do you fix that? You can't really fill it in or cover it over, do you just build a fence around it?

Maybe they could pump it full of heavy mud to stop the sinkage...
posted by samsara at 5:50 AM on June 1, 2010


Trying to fill a sinkhole that leads to an active cave is usually futile. If there's a stream at the bottom, it carries away whatever it can. Carries it to your water supply, often as not. Since the walls of that hole look pretty stable, I think covering it over actually is the best thing to do.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:03 AM on June 1, 2010


Behold, the Underminer! I'm always beneath you, but nothing is beneath me!
posted by kirkaracha at 6:08 AM on June 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


Trying to fill a sinkhole that leads to an active cave is usually futile.

Oh definitely wasn't serious...was more a joke reference to recently failed "heavy mud" solutions.
posted by samsara at 6:12 AM on June 1, 2010


What an awesome BASE jump that would be!
posted by DieHipsterDie at 6:44 AM on June 1, 2010


Malice: before instant, electronic communication you didn't always learn about natural disasters in other parts of the world, but sometimes you did: Krakatoa.
posted by Termite at 7:11 AM on June 1, 2010


Government of Guatemala's photostream can be found here.
posted by oneironaut at 8:08 AM on June 1, 2010


From beneath you it devours...
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:20 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


An interesting theory on why this is so perfectly round:

"My guess is that a large interceptor sewage main was tunneled underneath Guatemala City, probably 40 to 70 years ago. Localized collector systems were subsequently installed and tied into the interceptor main by digging down to install a manhole. The perfectly round hole suggests the back fill material washed into the interceptor pipe once it was breached."
posted by waxboy at 8:45 AM on June 1, 2010


hattifattener, yes they are called cenotes in the Yucatan; the older ones are weathered and not as precisely cylindrical but they have the same basic form as the brand-new one in this FPP. The Wiki article goes through the usual routine about limestone dissolving, but doesn't explain the amazing geometry. Any geologists in the house?
posted by Quietgal at 8:47 AM on June 1, 2010


Wow, that is terrifying. Especially imagining being in the one building that's just... gone.

My question is - if you didn't hear about it, how do you know it has happened exactly like this all this time? It wasn't really an answer for me. Just left me with more questions.

It would be interesting to recreate a few months from history as if they had today's level of global communications - 24 hour news blogging not only the San Francisco earthquake, for example, but any other disasters going on in the world at the time - and see how they compare.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 9:35 AM on June 1, 2010


What an awesome BASE jump that would be!

Except, how in the hell would you get back up? How far down does that thing go? It appears to be bottomless.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:48 AM on June 1, 2010


saulgoodman: According to BoingBoing it's about 60' deep.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:00 AM on June 1, 2010


The previous sinkhole was the subject of a Fark Photoshop Contest (yes, the link goes to Fark; react accordingly) which I actually contributed to. Due to link rot, you can't see my silly pictures there, but I do have them here (yes, a self-link; react accordingly).
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:00 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just last month, a family of 4, in a small town just outside of Montreal, were watching a hockey game in their basement living room, when the Earth swallowed their house.
posted by crunchland at 11:30 AM on June 1, 2010


saulgoodman: According to BoingBoing it's about 60' deep.

Well, obviously it's not really bottomless. Hyperbole aside, I just mean it looks like a hell of a drop in these pics. In reality, is 60 feet even enough distance for a BASE jump? Well, I guess people do it off bridges and other tall structures on that scale. A former co-worker of mine was into BASE jumping; he'd probably be chomping at the bit to try it if he saw this.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:34 AM on June 1, 2010


Sinkholes are terrifying. One moment you're just living your life, and the next you're crushed to death a hundred feet below the earth.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:39 AM on June 1, 2010


Except, how in the hell would you get back up? How far down does that thing go? It appears to be bottomless

Well, you lower a 300 foot rope down and winch them back up.

But if it's only 60 feet deep a BASE jump is just suicide any way.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 12:00 PM on June 1, 2010


BASE jump? You remember my big sinkhole from up above?

Here you go.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:04 PM on June 1, 2010


This was covered on the beeb here. (video is viewable for UK residents only)
posted by srboisvert at 12:04 PM on June 1, 2010


Apparently Guatemala has a history of mind-boggling deep sinkholes.

They'd have to invent a new kind of phobia to describe being crippled by your fear of heights while still standing on the ground.

And, while I've never been particularly bothered by high places, the idea of just standing on the flat ground and constantly worrying about falling hundreds of feet to my death? Yeah, you could probably sign me up as someone who would be afflicted by that particular phobia.
posted by quin at 1:01 PM on June 1, 2010


It would be interesting to recreate a few months from history as if they had today's level of global communications - 24 hour news blogging not only the San Francisco earthquake, for example, but any other disasters going on in the world at the time - and see how they compare.


I thought that Time Magazine, July 1987, had a section of "news" from around the time of the ratification, judging that news traveled through the country in about two weeks, and overseas in about four months. I can't seem to find it though.
posted by lysdexic at 1:39 PM on June 1, 2010


Sometimes I feel like I'm being paranoid when I think to myself that the Earth is trying to kill us. Then I remember the old saw that it's not paranoia if they really are out to get you.
posted by wierdo at 1:54 PM on June 1, 2010


Personally, I think some cosmic entity really hated someone who lived above that hole and just got carried a way. A little bit.
posted by Skygazer at 2:29 PM on June 1, 2010


I guess the new space laser works. Shame about its accuracy.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:40 PM on June 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Sinkhole? Sinkhole. Sinkhole!

Things were quiet at the end of the workday today.
posted by mendel at 4:16 PM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sinkhole de Mayo?

We have one of those in Texas. We also have an Abysmal Sink, and an Abominable Sinkhole. Naming caves is fun!
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:35 PM on June 1, 2010


Christ, what a sinkhole.

I bet you don't have one named that. Yet
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:34 AM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't it be awkward if the fundamentalists were right all along, and the endtime really is just around the corner?

I ask myself that when stuff like this happens.
posted by oinopaponton at 12:01 PM on June 2, 2010


Stuff like this has been happening forever. It's a very long corner.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:26 AM on June 4, 2010


Apparently it's not a sinkhole. It's a piping feature.
posted by jamaro at 12:24 PM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


jamaro's link pretty well nails it down -- this came over CaveTex (remailer) this morning, from a friend with a doctorate in geology:

As many of you that are interested have probably read, there is a lot of geo-babble going on as to what is the cause of the recent sinkhole in Guatemala. I've actually read accounts from geologists speculating that it's karst related due to the presence of limestone underlying the city (which is totally false). The most reputable explanation that I've seen is the following, from a fellow that helped in the investigation of the 2007 sinkhole that occurred in Guatemala City. The 2007 sinkhole was very similar in form and proximity to the 2010 sinkhole and they most likely share a common cause. I've also attached a 2007 news report that addresses the cause of the 2007 sinkhole and references Haddox's input into the site investigation.


I was an advisor for the 2007 sinkhole and we had determined that the sinkhole was caused by large storm drainage pipes that were far below the surface in poorly compacted fill. Possibly seismic activity sheared the connection of these collector pipes with a large junction box. This saturation/ erosion of the soil slowly ate away at the soil and eventually, after a large rain the top portion of the ground finally sheared and fell into the already existing cavern. There were already talks that this would happen again but what could really be done about these very old pipes so far under the ground and how can you find a sinkhole developing on the outside of a cracked pipe or further determine the extent of the possible sinkhole. This was further complicated by the nature of Guatemalan government and lack of resources to investigate these kinds of issues. If you look, this hole from 2010 looks very similar to the hole in 2007 and if you look at the location of the center of the new sinkhole you can notice that it is in the middle of the road where a manhole would naturally be. I am not involved in the investigation of the 2010 hole but I was living in Guatemala and present for the investigation of the 2007 hole.


Wikinews article on the 2007 event.

Essentially, it's a man-made catastrophe, with a good chance for further occurrences.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:41 AM on June 5, 2010


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